Friday, May 4, 2012

Soles Afire

Dismiss all that does not befit your age, with equanimity yield to your years: thus it must be.                                                                   -  Lucretius, “De Rerum Natura” (Bk. 3)

Whoever puts his decrepitude into print plays the fool . . . .
                                                  -  Michel de Montaigne, "Of Physiognomy," (Bk. III, essay 12) 

The older I get the more closely I resemble my grandfather. There's nothing for it when the combined forces of genetics and geezerhood play hell with an old man's countenance, his consciousness and his consent. Nothing trumps consanguinity. I can see that much in the mirror - the square head grown blunter, the complexion once sandy-haired, nowadays grizzled, the frame grown stockier, the blue of the eyes rheumier, the eyebrows wiry and bristling beneath deepening furrows. 

I swore I'd never crop them into blunt stubble; now I trim them without a thought, so much bothersome physiognomic brush to manage. I swore I'd never be one of those codgers who cut his own hair, now I have little enough remaining that paying someone else would be throwing good money after bad. My grandfather had his hair cut by someone until the end of his days (a friend, by the look of it) and looked no better than does his grandson the autotonsurist. A certain age brings with it the privilege of bargaining thus with vanity.


I cannot entirely approve of the continuing resolve and geriatric brio of the 97-year old Australian chappie who has just earned his fourth academic degree, a master's in clinical science. His third degree (a law degree) he earned at the age of 91, supposing it to be his last until he found time heavy on his hands once more. His academic advisor tells the press that he is "a tremendous inspiration to those who aspire to age well." That's as may be, I suppose, though for my part I would rather age on my own, like a cheese in semi-darkness, without the additional burden of inspiring other cheeses or being set an example by a suffering old wheezer who won't sit down.

'Managed care' for cheese

It is perhaps too much the other extreme to awake in one's favorite chair with one's foot afire, as did a fellow in Texas recently, in front of the telly with his 5-year-old granddaughter who pointed out to him that he was aflame. "Searing pain in my right foot, and when I woke up, I could see the room kind of exploded," he said. It seems he had the order of things a bit addled, understandable since a stray lightning bolt had entered his shoulder and exited by his foot. "I'm glad I still have my legs, but I'm sure going to miss that chair." Nothing like advancing age to bring philosophy in its train.

I suppose what brought about these musings is the fact that as of now I am on the growing roster of Social Security recipients, it being my year to become fully eligible, a true "senior" American in good standing, one of the first wave of baby boomers who will all too quickly pass this way - or not, depending on just how old you may be yourself. Eligibility for Social Security checks (it still being an age in which that phrase has meaning), like being an American or a Presbyterian or a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, is just a happy accident of birth - there's not a thing one could ever do to change it short of commiting treason, denying predestination or drinking too much at too many Elks mixed smokers.

I haven't yet decided what it all means. I don't foresee any more academic degrees in my future, though that may be preferable to an immobility that attracts lightning. Whatever I do, I will do it as a cheese would, aging slowly, gradually, filling each room I occupy in turn with the vaguely sulfurous air of profane soliloquy. Meanwhile, back to work.

Not me (not yet)

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